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UK universities lose ground in latest QS world rankings

Many UK universities have fallen further behind international competitors in the latest edition of the QS World University Rankings.

This year’s rankings indicate that the majority of the UK’s higher education institutions have proved unable to avoid further decline after last year’s regressive performance. Seventy six UK institutions are ranked this year, 51 of which have seen a fall in their position. The University of Cambridge has dropped back one place to 5th, while 11 of the 16 ranked Russell Group institutions see downward movements.

However, there is evidence that employers have become increasingly willing to hire graduates from UK universities in the year since the nation voted to leave the European Union. Forty three of the UK’s ranked universities record improved scores for QS’s Employer Reputation metric. This follows January’s QS Best Student Cities ranking, in which QS noted that a number of UK cities were receiving better Employer Activity scores.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology holds the top spot for a record sixth consecutive year. Standford and Harvard universities have also held fast in 2nd and 3rd positions, while California Institute of Technology has replaced Cambridge in 4th place.

QS said the UK’s relative performance is deteriorating for two primary reasons:

  • Falls in relative research performance. Forty five of the UK’s 76 universities receive lower scores for QS’s Citations per Faculty metric, which measures the impact achieved by a university’s research. The University of Cambridge, despite remaining the United Kingdom’s leading ranked research institution, has seen its Citations per Faculty score drop from 93.7 to below 80 in two years;
  • Falls in its standing among both the global and domestic academic communities. Forty six of the UK’s institutions receive lower scores for QS’s Academic Reputation metric, which records over 75,000 responses to QS’s Academic Reputation survey from faculty across the world.

Ben Sowter, Head of Research at QS, said: “Though the temptation may be to attribute the UK’s second year of struggle to Brexit, we would warn against doing so. Much of the data we collect for these tables has been collected over a five-year period, and the first year of post-Brexit internationalisation scores suggests that there has, thus far, been a minimal impact on international student and faculty rates at UK institutions.

"Of greater importance, we believe, is the continued strain on university resources, which appears to be having a deleterious impact on not just research, but also the capacity to deliver world-class teaching. Also of greater significance than Brexit is the simple and unavoidable truth that these rankings are a relative exercise, and the rest of the world is becoming increasingly competitive.”

Commenting on the results, Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said: “The competitiveness of UK universities has been affected by austerity. In particular, tuition fees have been frozen for five years and research funding has not grown as fast as in some other countries. So the latest QS rankings should give policymakers pause for thought. The various political parties have offered very different higher education policies at today’s general election. Whoever wins will need to work hard if UK universities are to regain their previous position.”

 

The expert opinion of 75,015 academics and 40,455 employers contributed to the 2018 edition of the rankings. 12.3m papers and 75.1m citations were analysed from the bibliometric database Scopus/Elsevier, to measure the impact of the research produced by the universities ranked.

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